BY MARK MIDDLEBROOK
Salumi-the large category of pork-based comestibles that see some combination of salting, stuffing into intestines, and curing-can easily become an obsession. Salame, prosciutto, pancetta, sausage, and the like demonstrate that fermentation and aging work wonders not just on grapes and grains, but on meats as well.
Besides the porcine pleasure of eating them, there is for those who get really hooked the challenge and reward of making them. Just ask Paul Bertolli, former chef and cookbook author for Chez Panisse and the man who made the reputation of Oliveto restaurant for uncompromising, authentic Italian food. During his tenure at Oliveto, Bertolli traveled often to Italy to learn the art of the salumiere. He brought the fruits – or rather, the meats – of that labor to his restaurant’s tables, especially during the annual “Whole Hog” dinners.
Bertolli’s most recent book, Cooking by Hand, includes a lengthy, gracefully written chapter on salumi-making. It functions as an inspiring treatise on the subject, with a discussion of traditional techniques, instructions for the modern home kitchen, advice on equipment, tips and warnings, and recipes for a wide range of salumi.
Salumi-making gradually consumed more and more of Bertolli’s attention, to the point where he decided to leave Oliveto and concentrate all of his attention on stuffing pork flesh into casings. Thus was born Fra’Mani, an artisanal salumi-making operation based in Emeryville.
After months of preparation, Fra’Mani recently began selling its first products to restaurants and food markets, including the Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, The Pasta Shop, Star Grocery, and Whole Foods. The first products to come out in June were two sausages (a classic Italian with anise and garlic and a spicy Italian, which adds sweet, dried peperoncini) and Salametto, a small, hearty salame laced with garlic. Other, longer-aged salami, such as Salame Toscano and Soppressata, will become available soon, after they finish their terms in Fra’Mani’s aging room.
I had the opportunity to taste a range of Fra’Mani salumi in June at Slow Food events in San Francisco and Oakland. Not surprisingly, every one was excellent. The standouts were a superb Coppa di Testa, with its beguiling visual, textural, and flavor variety, and the aforementioned Salametto, which was an outstanding accompaniment to a wide range of Italian regional wines that we were tasting.
Bertolli is not the only East Bay chef to seek out a clientele for his salumi obsession. Christopher Lee, another Chez Panisse alumnus, has long included his house-made salumi on the menu at Eccolo on 4th Street in Berkeley, and John Smulewitz recently added his own salumi to the choices at his trattoria-style Dopo on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. These are happy times for thus of us who can’t get enough of the whole hog.